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Elections in Niger: casting ballots or casting doubts? | Clingendael Institute |

Niger could see its first democratic transition since independence as the country heads to the polls for the presidential election on 27 December.1 Current President Mahamadou Issoufou has indicated he will respect his constitutionally mandated two-term limit of 10 years, passing the flag to his protégé, Mohamed Bazoum. Political instability looms, however, as Issoufou and Bazoum's Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a coalition of opposition parties fail to agree on the rules of the game.

Political inclusion and enhanced trust in the institutions governing Niger's electoral process are key if the risk of political crisis is to be avoided. Niger's central role in Western policymakers' security and political agendas in the Sahel -- coupled with its history of four successful coups in 1976, 1994, 1999, and 2010 -- serve to caution Western governments that preserving stability through political inclusion should take top priority over clinging to a political candidate that best represents foreign interests.

      Since the independence of Niger in 1960, Nigerien armed forces have played a prominent role in the country's history, either because of their recurrent "nonpolitical" interventions in the political arena or based on their involvement in the stabilization process of the Sahel and the fight against terrorism. Nigeriens have lived under civil, military, and authoritarian regimes, experienced four coups d'état (1974, 1996, 1999, and 2010), four political transitions, nine presidents, and have voted on seven constitutions. The Nigerien population lived under military rule for 23 out of 60 years following independence. Thus, Nigerien contemporary politics cannot be analyzed without a sound understanding of the Nigerien Army, how the institution became an "entrepreneur politique," and how institutional, economic, and social factors may encourage the intervention of a nonpolitical institution in the political arena. Politics and the military are definitely connected in Niger. Each coup has had a different motive.

During a turbulent electoral year in the region, Western governments must focus on the long-term goals of stabilizing and legitimizing Niger's political system as a means of ensuring an ally in security and migration matters -- not the other way around.


Disagreement over election modalities

A serious hindrance to Niger's future political stability is the lack of consensus between the ruling party and the opposition about the modalities under which the presidential elections should take place. The electoral code has been a source of tension and does not have the backing of the opposition. The voter roll similarly does not have their approval, as it excludes Nigériens living abroad. Finally, the composition of the two key institutions that can certify the elections and deal with any issues that arise, the Constitutional Court and the CENI, is a highly debated topic, as both bodies are seen by the opposition as politicized and favoring the ruling party. An interviewed opposition member expressed doubts about the impartiality of the CENI: "It's all fixed and the CENI is always with them [the ruling party].

You know very well that some parties are not included in the composition of the CENI. Under such conditions it will be very difficult for elections to be free and fair."

The fiercely debated issue of independent electoral bodies is not a standalone issue of instrumentalization of state power in Niger. President Issoufou's second term has seen a steady rise of repressive politics that have been criticized heavily by civil society and opposition parties. Protests in the capital over the past years have in many instances resulted in arrests of key civil society leaders. The most recent example is the incarceration of activists during a protests in Niamey against an alleged corruption scandal at the Defense Ministry. Rights groups have decried such repressive tactics, as well as the growing arsenal of legal instruments at the disposal of the government to justify their interventions.

Most interviewed opposition politicians express their concern that the elections will not take place in a free and fair manner. The opening of formal campaigning on 5 December took place against the backdrop of a decision of the Constitutional Court of 13 November to invalidate the candidacy of leading opposition figure Hama Amadou. The Court ruled that Amadou, who has been in a legal battle with the Nigerien justice system over an alleged child- trafficking case, in which he was condemned to one year in prison, is ineligible as candidate for the highest office in Niger based on Article 8 of Niger's electoral code. The article bars citizens convicted of crimes with prison sentences of one year or more from running for president.

2009 Nigerien constitutional referendum

Additional reports from The Hague Institute Clingendael ...

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'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Sun Aug 6th, 2023 at 08:12:08 PM EST
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